How to Throw an Awesome Oyster Party (Really!)

On the coast of Rhode Island, an oysterman hosts the ultimate bivalve bash. We tagged along for a crash course in oysters so you can pull off an epic feast of your own.
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owner of oyster company on boat with dogs

Walrus and Carpenter Oysters owner Jules Opton-Himmel out on the water with canine “farmhands” Clamcake (front) and Tautog.

What’s it like to wear a bathing suit and water shoes to a dinner party? If you snag a ticket to the Walrus and Carpenter Oysters summer dinner series, you can find out. In 2009 Jules Opton-Himmel started Rhode Island–based Walrus and Carpenter with a two-pronged goal: growing briny, buttery oysters and helping to restore the environment. Today he and his crew plant 2 to 3 million of the ocean-filtering bivalves every year on eight watery acres along the southern New England coast and supply oysters to more than 50 local chefs. 

It was the buzz about his oysters—coupled with his eagerness to spread the gospel about the creatures’ eco-friendliness—that prompted Opton-Himmel to start hosting the fun and informative dinners. The events begin with a tour of the farm and a chance to slurp the oysters straight from the waters where they’re grown. After the apps, guests sit down to a white-tablecloth multicourse feast on a picture-perfect sandbar. With just eight dinners planned every summer and 48 seats at each, Opton-Himmel instituted an online lottery system, so getting a place at the table is basically the luck of the draw. 

But even if you don’t hit the Walrus and Carpenter jackpot, you can still throw an awesome oyster party. (Seriously!) To help you get ready, we quizzed Opton-Himmel and other seafood experts to find out the truth about the tasty shellfish and how to shop and shuck with confidence. So what are you waiting for? It’s oyster o’clock!

crew member preps pile of bivalves

Crew member Mitch McGrane preps a pile of just-harvested bivalves.

music note on black

What’s a beach party without music? 
Get the perfect fun-in-the-sun playlist.

man holding freshly shucked oyster

The star of the party: a freshly shucked oyster.

Little Oyster, Big Difference

“Oysters are known as ecosystem engineers,” says Pete Malinowski, the executive director of the Billion Oyster Project, which aims to help restore New York Harbor by introducing 1 billion oysters into the area by 2035. “A single adult oyster can filter 50 gallons of water a day, and oyster reefs provide a habitat for thousands of marine species.” And that’s not all. According to Malinowski, “oyster reefs can also help soften the blow of large waves, which reduces flooding and prevents erosion.”

guests raise a toast at oyster dinner

Above, guests raise a toast from their seats on the sandbar. (Check out that view!)

guest wading in water to oyster bar
guest standing in water at oyster bar

At this party, guests mix and mingle on their way to the wade-up oyster bar.

shucking oyster and dinner party guest

A Walrus and Carpenter crew member, above left, wows guests with his superior shucking skills. Today’s sit-down dinner on the sandbar, above right, includes barbecue chicken, grilled corn, and a fresh tomato salad.

post-oyster dinner sunset cruise

After dessert, guests take a sunset cruise back to their cars.

Oyster Party Menu

Chef Beau Vestal of New Rivers restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island, served up an awesome menu for this beach party.

 Heirloom Tomato Salad

heirloom tomato salad

Recipe: Try Beau's Heirloom Tomato Salad

Littleneck Clams with Sausage, Kelp Broth, Corn & Grilled Bread

littlenecks with sausage

Recipe: Try Beau's Littleneck Clams with Sausage, Kelp Broth, Corn & Grilled Bread

Salt-Brined Grilled Chicken with Oyster Barbecue Sauce

salt-brined chicken with oyster barbecue sauce

Recipe: Try Beau's Salt-Brined Grilled Chicken with Oyster Barbecue Sauce

Lemon Pound Cake with Blueberry Sauce & Chamomile Whipped Cream

lemon pound cake with blueberry sauce

Recipe: Try Beau's Lemon Pound Cake with Blueberry Sauce & Chamomile Whipped Cream

Click through the gallery to see more from the oyster party!

In honor of our June 2018 Food & Music issue, we set this story to music! Get the playlist below.